The cringe of “God Bless America”
First sung on Armistice Day in 1938, a day to celebrate the end of WWI, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” was ultimately used to compel for victory in war. Since 9/11 almost every professional baseball park will play the song during the 7th-inning stretch. That’s almost 2,500 times from April to October. This is going beyond a polite nod to senior citizens who grew up in a ‘different’ era. This is clearly trying to foster some kind of war-time patriotism, with a little bit of ‘old-time religion’ thrown in. As the camera pans around the stadium, some of the more ‘devout Americans’ seem to be taking the moment very seriously. I would say it’s quite astonishing. And rather frightening. Let’s look at the lyrics that are being so passionately bellowed by both genders with hands over their hearts (seriously):
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home. (Repeat)
Poetic, touching, emotional. But whoa. Ok, let’s think this through, shall we? Let’s start with a few basic facts.
- 28% of professional players were born outside the country. That means that about 250 people, including many of the best players in the game, are looking around during the seventh inning wondering “whahh?”
- A significant percentage of attendees and television audience members were born or live outside the country.
- A significant percentage of attendees and television audience members do not have supernatural faith of any kind nor believe in any kind of supernatural power, or simply have never bothered to waste time thinking about such an idea.
- There are about 200 countries (nation-states) in the world.
From the lyrics, which if believed would be seriously problematic for foreign policy and diplomacy, some divine force (I would assume Zeus) is being called to bless (poetic meaning, so, unclear) the residents of the fifty states of the USA (it’s not clear whether US territories are also included, like the Virgin Islands, Guam, or even Puerto Rico—a massive exporter of MLB talent). Here are some implications:
- Zeus should bless the destination of their stars, and not their origin.
- You’re hopefully (we’re not sure, that’s why we’re asking for it) going to be blessed because you came to the US to play baseball.
- You can be blessed for now, because you’re here now in the US, but we can’t make any promises for your family back home (assuming it’s not Puerto Rico, which we can cover in this arrangement).
- We also can’t guarantee the blessing will continue when you visit home during the off-season.
- The blessing unfortunately expires when the airplane leaves US airspace, which is determined and enforced by the US Coast Guard.
- The blessing also extends to geographical, territorial areas within US airspace, including everything in the Cleveland city limits, Yosemite National Park, and the Everglades.
- We’re not interested in talking about Zeus’ blessing of Zimbabwe or Greenland or Tibet (if you support independence). What only matters to us is that Zeus blesses the residents of the fifty US states and territories. Within US airspace. And not on holiday.
- Damn it. Ok, the residents can keep the blessing when they go on holiday, but it can’t be renewed until a new prayer is said when they get back.
- Shit. Ok, the residents have the blessing when they’re abroad. But its strength weakens the further they go.
- Fuck. The strength of the residents’ blessing is directly proportional to their proximity to a US territory.
Someone might say, “Well, we’re not asking Zeus to avoid blessing other countries and their residents. We’re just requesting a particular blessing of America. Nothing against other countries.” Then why not the lyric, “God Bless the World” or “God Bless His Creation”? If one believes in Zeus, and assuming Zeus created the world, why not just ask for his blessing over everything? Well, that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and it certainly won’t get more men to enlist.
The nationalistic element is entirely absurd and so pathetically outdated. But what does ‘bless’ mean, anyway? I presume it means some kind of a transmission of grace, euphoria, luck, virtuosity, or health from a divine source. So, the people singing are asking for parcels of good times from outer space. Or beams of pulchritude. Or mysts of raw divinity. I guess. And that’s cool. But, are we doing this out of respect for the elderly? That could be a vaguely acceptable reason, if they represented the largest consumer base. But they don’t. So why are we doing this?
The song is meant to inspire and reinforce patriotic feelings in what is fundamentally a global setting. All events are local (they take place somewhere). But with technology, local events are known everywhere. So, shouldn’t we be embarrassed to witness its playing and singing in front of our favorite players, relatives, friends, and neighbours, who were not “blessed” with the genetic accident of a USA birthplace?
Now, someone might say, “Let them have their national song. We’ll keep ours.” If a musical piece has an element of national pride it, first of all it’s silly. Not evil. Just silly. Ok, keep it, belt it out if you want. It’s objectively pathetic, though apes we remain. But, it simply cannot have a national AND spiritual element. That’s just a terrible mixture, which humanity certainly has some experience with. Surely we could all agree that continued singing of this song cannot contribute to the reduction and avoidance of present and future armed conflict? And after all, as the shit-eating primates that we are, the first thing we need to do is reduce the killing. Not eliminate. No hope for that. Just try to reduce.
I can’t help but cringe when I hear this song, because it writhes in political and religious ignorance. And we continue to celebrate it. “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remove your caps…” No thanks.